First to Burn
The Immortal Vikings #1
By: Anna Richland
Released Jan 27th, 2014
A Soldier with Secrets.
Immortal Viking Wulf Wardsen once battled alongside Beowulf, and now serves in Afghanistan. He's trusted the mortal men on his elite special operations team to protect his secret, until an explosion lands Wulf in a place more dangerous to him than a battlefield: a medevac helicopter.
A Doctor with Questions.
Army captain Theresa Chiesa follows the rules and expects the same from others, even special forces hotshots like Sergeant Wardsen. She's determined to discover the secret behind his supernaturally fast healing, and she won't allow his sexy smile to distract her.
An Enemy with Nothing to Lose.
Even as Theresa's investigation threatens to expose him, Wulf dreams of love and a normal life with her. But the lost Viking relic needed to reverse his immortality is being hunted by another—an ancient enemy who won't hesitate to hurt Theresa to strike back at Wulf.
Wulf clawed a path to consciousness, embracing the grinding pain in his left leg as a sign that he’d emerged from oblivion, until the engine whine and floor vibrations warned him of a problem worse than his injury. He was trapped in the second most dangerous place in Afghanistan for a man like him: a U.S. Army medevac helicopter.
“Easy, Sergeant.” The flight medic who leaned into view squeezed a bag connected to the mask covering Wulf’s mouth. “You’re safe.”
While oxygen inflated Wulf’s lungs, a functioning corner of his brain demanded answers. His commander would never call an evacuation chopper for him, so who else had been hurt? Struggling against the painkillers, he tried to remember everyone’s last positions. Kahananui had been on his right. He has two little girls. Five meters ahead, Cruz had taken point. Was it Cruz? He pays for his mother’s diabetes drugs.
Wulf tried to turn his head and search for his teammates, but he couldn’t move. He tensed his abs and lower back and jerked to lift his shoulders, but again he couldn’t move. The certainty that one of his men needed him struck like a spear between his ribs, but no matter how he strained his arms and chest, he could not move. Not his arms, not his body, and by the gods, not his legs, despite the agony that intensified in his left one as the painkillers faded.
“Stop fighting, Sarge.” The medic was young, mid-twenties at most, but his voice carried over the chopper racket with the confidence shared by those who served in aviation.
Free of morphine fog, Wulf understood he wasn’t paralyzed, only slapped into a neck collar and strapped to a stretcher, complications that, like his injuries, weren’t insurmountable. But his teammates couldn’t conquer wounds so easily. “Whoshhurt?”
“I know it hurts, man. We’re eighteen minutes out from Camp Caddie, so hang on.”
Dammit, the medic didn’t understand him through the oxygen mask. He needed to see who was in this helicopter. Not knowing compressed his chest until he groaned.
“This will help the pain.” One of the man’s hands reached for something outside Wulf’s circle of vision.
Skīta. He didn’t want the guy to up the intravenous dope before he could discover who’d been hurt. The last thing he remembered was freezing in place when the team’s German shepherd had hunkered in a bomb-alert position in the middle of an apricot orchard.
Like their dog Garbo, they’d stopped. All, that is, except an Afghan training with them who’d been distracted by lighting a cigarette and had moved forward two more paces. The blast had thrown Garbo against a stone wall. Rocks, dirt clods and metal packed around the improvised explosive device had pounded Wulf’s helmet and body armor, mangling his leg. Fucking smoker. Could’ve killed us.
This time Wulf spaced his words as carefully as sniper shots. “Who. Else. Hurt.”
The medic’s eyes flickered to the port side of the Black Hawk helicopter. “Two Afghans. At least one’s not going to make it. And your dog.”
Relief that he’d been swept up with an evacuation of Afghan National Army soldiers, not one of his own men, crested with the newest wave of meds. Temporarily woozy, he slurred his next question, howshGarbo, but this time the medic understood.
“Ear and head lacerations, possible broken leg, but the pooch armor did its job.”
His system processed this smaller dose faster than the earlier morphine, providing only minutes of peace before the torment of growing fresh bone, a torture he imagined to be comparable to a drill bit tunneling through his shin, crested.
Locking his jaw stifled his groan, but barely. He hadn’t endured a lost leg since Antietam. He’d forgotten. “Hurts.”
“More?” The medic calculated with his fingers. “Sergeant, you have more pure in you than Keith Richards.” Eyebrows lost in the top of his helmet, he shook his head. “Can’t believe you’re lucid.”
This agony blended with memories of a September afternoon in high corn, moaning next to other Union volunteers as blood-frenzied flies circled. His pain had been caused by healing. Theirs, by dying. When he’d recovered enough to carry his unit’s drummer off the field, the ten-year-old’s eyes had no longer blinked at the sun. Some hurts were worse than regrowing bones, took longer to mend. At least today he didn’t face such a loss.
Instead, he gritted his teeth, concentrated on the pain of his nails digging into his fisted palms and planned. Without being able to test his strength or see his leg, he wouldn’t know the extent of his progress until the itching started. Didn’t matter. The moment the flight medic transferred him to someone who hadn’t seen his original injury and the straps were unbuckled, he’d walk away. He’d done it other times. He had to be ready because under no circumstances could he end up in the most dangerous place for an immortal soldier: a hospital.
Anna Richland lives with her quietly funny Canadian husband and two less quiet children in a century-old house in Seattle. Like the heroine of FIRST TO BURN, she joined the army to pay tuition, a decision that led to an adventurous career on four continents (if standing on the bridge in Panama that divides North and South America counts as two).
She donates a portion of her book proceeds to the Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing for families of wounded soldiers in the US and Great Britain, and Doctors Without Borders, which delivers emergency medical care in more than sixty crisis zones world-wide.
To find out about her October novella, HIS ROAD HOME, and the next Immortal Vikings romance, THE SECOND LIE, visit her website at annarichland.com and sign up for her newsletter.
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